Building wellbeing into conferences and events

As workplaces tentatively look forward to a fresh new, and hopefully Covid-free year, one group that is still dealing with the effects of the pandemic is the teaching community.

Here, we speak to  Sammy Connell, Conferences and Events Manager at the NASUWT – The Teachers’ Union –  about the planning of the Union’s first live conference since 2019, and specifically the steps that were taken to promote attendees’ mental health and wellbeing at the event.

How much did you consider attendees’ wellbeing when planning this event?

It was one of our two key goals.  We know how important downtime is for teachers and whilst we’ve included wellbeing features in our past conferences, for 2022 we wanted to take it up a notch. We decided to have a wellness theme running throughout the conference and for the first time our exhibition featured a wellness zone. We wanted to steer attendees away from an alcohol based social event and so instead hosted a celebratory event for members in the form of afternoon tea.

What was your starting point?

We knew we wanted a dedicated area within the exhibition where our members could step back from the highly charged environment and take a few moments of quiet time for themselves. This wellness zone we called our ‘Chill and Recharge Area’. This featured charging points for digital devices, relaxing scents, suitable lighting and literature on wellbeing. Other features included adult colouring books and games.

Did you include any learning sessions on wellbeing topics?

Yes – we hosted six 20-minute wellness sessions throughout the day, covering subjects like standing yoga, Tai Chi, Bangra dance, seated exercise and mindfulness.  We wanted to offer short and impactful activities that people could continue to do at home. It turned out that the sessions were so popular we could have run another six! We received great delegate feedback.  The music and dance therapy, for example, brought such joy; people of all ages and abilities loved the happy vibes.

Was it difficult to find practitioners to run these sessions?

It’s our policy, as part our commitment to sustainability, to use local suppliers wherever possible – we’re based in Birmingham and already had some contacts at a Birmingham wellness centre. They were great in helping us source the right people and generally support what we wanted to do.  We included exhibitor profiles in our event app, so that attendees could visit practitioner websites before or after the sessions and find out more about them.

Did you try anything outside of physical activities?

Yes – we were keen to introduce some innovation and variety, so we hosted our first virtual reality gaming experience as well.  An external supplier provided the headsets for people to play games such as ‘Walk the Plank’. It wasn’t for everyone, but teachers are generally a competitive bunch and a lot of them loved it. The gaming sessions took up 5-10 minutes of the lunchbreak.  They were really well received – we had queues lined up to participate and it was possible for non-players to watch the games on screen. Attendees came away laughing, joking and feeling really upbeat as a result.

Was it a challenge to get delegates to spend time in the exhibition?

Our floorplan anticipated this: we positioned the Wellness Tipi at the back of the hall, where its height made it visible from the hall entrance, so the delegates’ journey there took them past the stands. We also deliberately placed some catering outlets at the back of the hall to drive people through the exhibition area.

How did you facilitate people reconnecting on a one-to-one or small group basis?

We knew our teachers couldn’t wait to get face-to-face with colleagues they hadn’t seen since before the pandemic.  So, we created lots of different styled networking areas, including soft sofas and round tables at high and low levels.

Could you name one feature that stole the show?

We had eight individual Nook pods located around the exhibition hall. These served as mini meeting rooms: they had comfy chairs and a table in the middle, with power and plug sockets. Having a little roof overhead but open sides blocked out a lot of background noise and made it possible to have one-to-one conversations without being removed from the hall.  These were such a success – in fact we could have had 18 of them, as there was never one free. We’ll definitely be using them again.

The mental health and wellbeing of guests attending events in our properties is paramount here at The Venues Collection, and we believe this must be reflected within our own working culture.  This is evidenced by ‘You Matter’, our mental health awareness and support campaign.  We want our colleagues to feel free to speak up if they are struggling and so we encourage everyone to “Ask Twice” – to check with each other that things are OK.

For staff and guests alike, our properties have been designed to maximise comfort and wellbeing: we offer flexible event and exhibition rooms, multiple meeting spaces providing a blank canvas and plenty of breakout areas.  We take pride in our outdoor spaces, featuring everything from Italian Gardens and courtyards to open areas bordered by attractive planting, as well as access to walking routes. Our chefs create tasty and energizing meals as a matter of course but every venue is happy to customise menus, service and décor to match your vision.

Our flexible teams are dedicated coordinators with the imagination and  the experience to tailor solutions that will suit your needs.  We’d love to help you plan your next event, so please talk to our sales team for more details:

Go back to other articles